New to the Hill? Not the buildings of state that surround the Capitol, but the neighborhood that fronts it. Even if you imagine you know it all, you might not. Assuming that we’ve turned the corner on the plague, there’s a wonderful small town here just waiting for you to discover.
Here’s a brief tour.
The front end of the Capitol is probably not where you think it is. The back of the Capitol faces the Mall, the front looks toward the neighborhood, which is split by East Capitol Street, which runs uninterrupted to Lincoln Park, which is, more or less, the eastern end.
The boundaries of the largest historic district in Washington are wriggly things. You can best tell the edges by the pop-ups on the rooftops of our turn-of-the-last-century row houses —verboten within the boundaries— which must look as they did when built. (Though adjacent areas, which stretch to the Anacostia River and over to H Street ,are like beloved step-siblings, part of the family, with plenty of verve to spare).
What most consider our centerpiece is Eastern Market, the 150-year-old building at 7th and North Carolina, SE that offers beef and poultry, fish, cheeses, veggies, fresh pasta, baked goods and flowers every day but Monday. Tuesdays and on weekends farmers arrive with fresh eggs, fruit, designer lettuce and such. The street is packed on Saturdays and Sundays when artists, craftspeople, and vendors of all manner of interesting things sell their wares and browsers buy them.
But do check out the shops near the Market; you’ll find finds you’ll never see in a big box store. Groovy DC has terrific cards and a cool assortment of gifts, upstairs is Paris Bleu with an ever-shifting collection of hand bags, soaps, jewelry, scarves, and curious trinkets imported directly from Paris. Just up the street Woven History is a mecca for hand-crafted rugs, Quavaro has gorgeously buttery leather goods of their own designs, and Clothes Encounters of a Second Kind is a treasure hunters paradise.
This is a neighborhood where foodies rejoice. From weekend farmer’s markets to small shops for pastries, and cookies, spices and fabulous breads, and corner stores for emergency candy and beer, to big stores like Trader Joe’s, two Harris Teeters, two Whole Foods, a Giant and a fancy schmancy new Safeway with a popcorn kiosk and an oyster bar.
Restaurants range from diner-dives like the Tune Inn and Jimmy T’s to hold-on-to-your wallets two Michelin-starred Pineapple and Pearls. In between are so many gems like Roses Luxury, Bistro Cacao, Joselito, Trattoria Alberto, Chikos, and Ambar. Plus, a bumper-crop of pizza joints and Mexican/Salvadoran spots – even a fancy new food court at The Roost.
There are plenty of bars as well, hang outs like Tunnicliffs, Mr. Henry’s and assorted hot spots along H Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Barracks Row.
Wine your thing? Among the many choices. DCanter on Barracks Row 8th Street has a fine assortment, plus wine tastings and classes. Schneiders is the go-to for the rarified. But don’t overlook the smaller spots, Like Wine & Butter on Lincoln Park and Radici, which offers delightful wines at reasonable prices to take home or enjoy on their patio overlooking the Eastern Market scene.
Wine goes very well with books. Not only are there two great libraries—the Northeast and Southeast branches—there’s the Library of Congress with the motherlode. We also have the wonderful East City Bookshop, with its seemingly endless book clubs, Fairy Godmother for kid’s books and gifts, Solid State on H, and Capitol Hill Books for both new and used tomes.
Pick up something from a restaurant or carryout and picnic in a park—wine is forbidden so hide it well, please. There are large parks, pocket parks, waterfront parks, kid’s parks, and dog parks. Seven-acre Lincoln Park is the largest. Dogs illegally romp among the cherry trees, magnolias and chestnuts, runners run, children learn to bike, and toned bodies bikini roast in the summer sun.
How do those bodies get toned?
Gym rats have several hot spots: Balance Gym, Orange Theory, and Capitol Hill Sport & Health (which accepts Silver Sneakers. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it—yet). There’s rowing on the Anacostia, yoga in every form and at every turn, and a great route for runners and walkers along the waterfront. The Hill is very flat so if you bike you basically roll along with little effort—go up and down Capitol Hill if you want to pump the pump. For swimmers there’s the natatorium at Eastern Market with lap lanes and water aerobics.
You can also sit or lie down and get gorgeous, with terrific salons, and eyebrow trimmers and waxers, and botoxers, and day spas like Lavender Retreat and Linda at Native Beauty who offers the most amazing oxygen facial in town.
Once polished up, show it off. Maybe check out the art scene. There’s theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Capitol Hill Arts workshop, which also has classes. Capitol Hill Pottery has classes too and there are all manner of offerings at The Hill Center: book signings and lectures and art shows (great gatherings even if you don’t give a hoot about art—there’s free wine and snacks). They also offer cooking classes and language instruction to perfect your oofs, achs, and zuts for your next vacation.
Or catch a game (or Taylor Swift) at Nationals Stadium.
We even have movies. The Hill Center frequently has a film series, as does the Library of Congress – we also have an oldtime theater with family friendly fare at the Miracle Theater on Barracks Row.
When people settle here they’re reluctant to leave, that’s where the Capitol Hill Village is handy indeed. Offering social, educational, and support services that allow residents to remain in their homes—or move from apartment to house to apartment to…
Yes! You can even rest in peace right here! Congressional Cemetery still has space. A few years ago, Diana McClellan, Queen of Washington Gossip, was buried there with a string quartet and a champagne send-off under the cherry trees. You too can arrange such a memorable do.
While you’re waiting, you can sign up to walk your dog. It’s one of the favorite places for pups to romp, with no leash requirement–though you might die waiting for your name to come up.
Stephanie Cavanaugh is a writer and long-time resident of Capitol Hill.